Projection: seeing ones own sins in others


Many of us in the atheist and skeptical community have noticed this trend within many people.  It is certainly not unique to religious people nor is it ubiquitous within religious groups, but this particular force is quite strong with many believers.  It is projection, and it is a form of insecurity and lack of self awareness.

How does it work? Well, it is quite simple, actually.  Have you ever met a guy who is just a little too homophobic?  You know, the guy who even at the slightest accidental touch or slightly long eye-contact from another guy provokes some comment such as “hey, what are you a queer or something?”In other words, the reaction is to call the other person a homosexual.  Why would they do this? Now, in some cases it might just be because they are an ass, but it seems to me that in some cases this is the fear of their own homosexual feelings.  Perhaps they are bisexual, even if only a little.  Perhaps those impulses scare them because they don’t want to be teased by other people like them.

Thinking about it again, the better example is people like Mark Sanford, who promoted family values all the while involved in his own sex scandals. But theists can do the same type of thing.  A common example of this that I see is the accusations that certain people make of atheists.  We want to live a life of sin and so we ignore god’s rules.  We are ignorant and don’t know or want to know the truth.  There are other examples as well, but these should be sufficient for now.

How are these accusations projections? Well, maybe sometimes they aren’t.  But I have talked with people and have found that replies to atheists by theists come in this form when the theist is in denial about their own actions and thus hoists them onto their interlocutor.

Many Christian men come to their faith while young and after dealing with some issue; whether it be alcohol abuse, womanizing, excessive pornography use, etc.  I saw this in college and graduate school multiple times, and have heard similar stories from many people before and since.  In many cases it’s more than one thing, and they find, within the messages of Christianity, a way to be saved from these problems.  But their desire does not go away.  They still want to look at porn, drink, and have some casual sex but they have turned the corner and are living a life under their idea of god, changed (they claim) by their rebirth.

And so, when they see people like me who enjoys a couple of good beers in an evening, who has sexual experiences that I don’t feel guilty about, and can freely look at porn if I want to (I actually don’t have much interest in porn, but am certainly not offended by it), they project their unrequited desires onto me, seeing their former selves as me, hiding from god because I want to continue to live this sinful life.

They could not be more wrong.  I’m not living an immoral life;  I don’t go around having casual sex (I’m polyamorous and am interested in relationships primarily), I don’t drink to excess (I prefer quality to quantity), and I don’t go out of my way to see porn (although if it’s in front of me I might check it out). I don’t see these things as sinful or wrong in themselves.  They can be used in ways that can make the acts wrong, of course.

They have the problem that they are struggling with, and I sympathize with this because we all have issues we deal with as we try and improve ourselves.  They were using people or overdoing something they liked to do and went as far as to see the whole activity as wrong, rather than its misuse or excess as being the problem.  Instead of reading the Bible, perhaps they should have read Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics; as what they need is moderation, not prohibition.

The other reply I get frequently is sometimes more damning; ‘you atheists are irrational’ or ‘atheists are just afraid of the truth’ or something like that.  When I talk to them, I find that it is them that is ignorant and afraid of the truth.  They don’t know the history of their religion, its theology, nor have they read all of their scriptures.  They think I’m avoiding god but it is them who is over-focusing on god; they are missing other points of view because they have swapped one addiction (whether it be sex, porn, alcohol, etc) for another (god).

Especially if their theology has them reject evolution or the so-called big-bang theory, they almost never don’t understand the basic theories let alone the scientific method.  And when you bring these things up, you see fear, insecurity, and anger in them as you are picking apart the edifice of their reborn self.

And then what happens? They project that fear and anger onto us, and then we become the angry atheists of contemporary lore.  This, in my opinion, is the most common form of projection.  My passion for the subject, my confidence in tone in presenting my view,  causes fear, insecurity, and thus anger in those who are not so confident and they project their emotion onto me.

There is a lot of insecurity and fear within religious communities about their beliefs, especially the more fundamentalist groups.  And I will not deny that there are some angry and insecure atheists, as I know a few of them.  I am insecure in some ways myself, but not when it comes to my lacking belief in any gods.  In this I’m pretty sure and secure, and my breadth  of knowledge on the topic of religion began as an honest attempt to evaluate religion and led me to remain skeptical of religious claims.  I’ve not been convinced, am open to be convinced, and no matter how often I say this I still get comments that say that I’m claiming that god does not exist and I’m being dogmatic.

I’m sorry, but it is most theists who claim that god does exist and are dogmatic.  Stop projecting your behavior onto me.

Stop allowing your fears and insecurities to govern your behavior.  Recognize them as part of what you have to deal with, become conscious of how what scares you motivates you to not see things within yourself.

Finally, am I projecting? Possibly a little.  But I think that this is a common human psychological behavior pattern, and I do see it frequently.  I have had some Christians I’ve talked to admit that they are insecure, sometimes, about their beliefs and they think that others, including atheists, are guilty.  And so they sometimes are.  But being aware of it is a first step in finding a solution.  If we want to continue a mature and informed dialogue about these issues, everyone, including atheists, needs to be aware of how we use projection to tear down the other rather than admit our own flaws.

We all need to inspect the logs in our eyes before attending to the splinter in others’ eyes.

24 thoughts on “Projection: seeing ones own sins in others

  1. There is one person I met, a catholic, who was angry when he learned my position on god(s). This is an intelligent person. I work with him and he is learning things in weeks that it took me months to learn. However when theology came up in conversation, (as it always does) He was downright angry, but controlled. We kept talking.

    I eventually figured that his reaction was because I take a position that he is too afraid to take. If he doubts, or questions, or doesn’t believe with all his heart, he might go to hell. Such is Catholicism.

  2. I’ve met a number of people like this. Catholics are particularly good at compartmentalization. Even though for the most part they have doubts, that fear and the guilt are almost always there.

  3. I find it particularly delightful that you’ve chosen to tag this post “hypocrisy.” You say everyone has projection…yet you chose to only examine and mock it in “believers.” You think that the only reason they become impassioned while defending their views is that you are SO smart and SO intimidating! This must be it. You are so amazing that you immediately inspire jealousy, insecurity and projection in all you meet. (I actually just chuckled.)

    I enjoy your lambasting the Catholics, though. The fact that they do believe in evolution, the big bang theory, have some of the most educated spiritual leaders and encourage personal reflection and examination? All invalid to you because they are stupid enough to have faith in something you do not. No projection there, for sure. Let’s not examine that…let’s just make broad generalizations. I feel that broad generalizations are always conducive to intelligent debate and discussion.

    If we all need to be aware, as you say, of projection, then why are you so focused on a group of people whose mind you can not possibly understand, and examine yourself instead? Why do I feel like your habit of dedicating a blog to picking apart an entire of faction of people is merely your way of avoiding your own issues and problems? If your true desire is being conscious of yourself, your time could be much better served looking at your faults and your own issues, rather than focusing on some segment of the population that you have deemed “less than.”

    “Hypocrisy typically comes from a desire to mask actual motives or feelings, or from a person’s inability to conform to standards they espouse.” Would that be like someone who claims that self examination is of the highest priority, and then dedicates an entire blog to showing how other people are wrong? Hmmmm.

  4. Chargelaughing,

    You know, I do focus on myself in terms of criticism. This is how people grow. I like the old phrase “gnothe seauton.” which asks us to know ourselves.

    I’m very well aware of my own issues. I know that some non-believers use projection as well, and I call them on it as well. That was not the subject of my post, but perhaps I will address it in the future.

    I’m an insecure person in many ways. My willingness to be aware of this and try to do something about it is one of the things I like about myself. So, I appreciate your thoughts, but I hope that you don’t think that I’m simply saying all X are Y, because I don’t think I said that. I was just discussing an observation I have had over the years.

    Thanks for your comments.


  5. I think my issue lays in the fact that you will not address that in later posts, because the entire intent of this blog seems to be focusing on one faction of society and talking about how stupid they are.

    The fact that you take all your time and effort to constantly criticize the same group with the same tired arguments and the same tired critiques is what troubles me. You are not being scholarly, you are not making an informed study of Christianity or the role of faith…you are merely using them as whipping boys day after day after day. Another day, another post on how Christians suck and you’re so much smarter and better than them. I can not conceive of anything more banal.

    They are: less intelligent, their passion is just projection, etc. You, however, describe yourself as: strong minded and your passion just comes from from confidence. It’s strange…you both are passionate about the subject, but you somehow just KNOW that your passion comes from confidence, and theirs comes from fear. Most of your examples of faith come from vague assertions of “I’ve seen/known these people before.” That’s an excellent way to make a point without having to produce any clear evidence behind it. “Yeah, I knew this guy once, and he was totally projecting…take my word for it.” Incidentally, your post about crying out for god and not finding him was…what? Saying that because your one poor experience must invalidate everyone else’s? I wonder what would have happened if you had heard an answer, and I wonder if your constant berating has anything to do with that failed experiment.

    If I met anyone in my life who spent as much time criticizing someone as you do, I would probably guess that the issue they had was with themselves. If they really viewed the other side to be as silly as you do, they would ignore them. If they really wanted reasoned debate, they would engage in it in person, or invite whoever they are critiquing to respond to their arguments. If they wanted to study it, they would, and they would present both sides of the issue. You do none of these. You harp on everyone on the other side, while holding yourself up as the pinnacle of reason, and the way in which you do it says to me that it has nothing to do with them, but everything to do with you.

  6. Is it possible that because I did study Christianity, as well as other world religions, that I concluded that these things are not only untrue, but actually harmful?

    And if I did conclude this, why should I not protest it day after day?

    I care about the state of the world. I think that faith is absurd and sometimes dangerous. I don’t claim to have all the answers, just that religion doesn’t have the answers either. You want me to present both sides, but this seems to me to be based upon the notion that presenting both sides, the “fair and balanced” approach, is somehow better. In the case where there really is no argument for faith or Christianity, why should I pretend there is? Just so I don’t offend Christians and their non-Christian appeasers?

    Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and even the newage (it rhymes with sewage) religions are harmful overall. What good they do is outweighed by the bad, and those goods can be achieved by non-theistic means. Personally, I think that religion is a natural human expression of meaning, purpose, and creativity. Those can be great things. But when absurd ideas like we find with the major faiths arise, they act to retard growth and progress.

    If you don’t like criticism, then don’t read it. Nobody is making you read this blog.

  7. Oh, I won’t be reading, don’t worry. I thought I would just point out the irony of you titling that post “hypocrisy” as you lambaste a group without a clear understanding of why they get under your skin. Your argument that you do it to better the world falls flat. If that were true, you would dedicate your time and energy to volunteer, fight poverty, fight violence, do ANYTHING other than this blog. I would almost think you had a point if you spent any time pointing out the ills that happen in the name of faith, but you seem much more concerned just poking fun at your subjects’ supposed lack of intellectual prowess.

    Next time you should name your blog “Religious People Lack Critical Thinking Skills.” It would adequately summarize every single post you have made here, and you’d have a lot more time to actually get out and try and improve this world you claim to care about.

  8. Also, I think it’s charming that you have unilaterally decided that you are the bringer of objective truth and you get to decide that there is no argument for faith. You say the other side is wrong, so get to ignore it altogether! Lucky boy. The rest of us usually aren’t so lucky when our views diverge from others. Wait…but then later you say that religion is a “natural human expression of meaning, purpose, and creativity.”
    But there’s no argument for it? I’m confused. Or are you?

    I love criticism. I just don’t love one sided criticism that presents one side of the coin, then pats itself on the back for winning a debate where the other side wasn’t invited. And I will repeat what I have been saying all along: you focus on this “debate” for reasons that you have yet to express, reasons that have nothing to do with what some people unrelated to you in any way feel, and more to do with your own issues.

  9. There is a difference between religion and faith. Religion is a human practice and is broad in its definition and cultural roles. Faith is belief despite a lack of evidence or in the face of opposing evidence. There is no argument for faith because faith desires none. There is an argument for religion because it does play an important role in our lives.

    Religion does not have to be based on any faith. It tends to be, but it does not have to be.

  10. Um, you’re being pendantic and cherrypicking phrases. Christianity IS a religion, and you said that there is no argument for it, then you say that religion can be great. Which is it, oh ye arbiter of objective truth?

  11. Yes, but Christianity is only one particular religion. Religion can be great in some cases. Christianity is not one of the examples I would use to demonstrate this (Buddhism would be a better choice). Some Christians are great. I just don’t think it’s the Christianity itself that makes them so.

    There are some good ideas within the various Christian worldviews. Many of the central messages of Christianity are both untrue and problematic. The faith in Christian doctrine, whether it be the virgin birth, resurrection, original sin, or the concept of salvation, cannot be rationally defended. People have tried (C.S. Lewis, William Lane Craig, and Josh McDowell are a few) but they all fail for various reasons.

    The Golden Rule and some of Jesus’ (if he existed) other teachings are, in my opinion, good. But a few good ideas mixed within a larger worldview that is irrational are insufficient to deem the whole good.

  12. Again, cherrypicking. You pick some parts of a religion and claim that they are not rationally defensible, and leave out the myriad that can be defended. But look. You’ve already stated equivocally that you are not interested in debate. You have no interest in pursuing this in a scholarly sense, or considering the other side, because you have deemed any opinion other than your own unworthy of examination.

    I never came here to argue the finer points of your beliefs…I think you’re entitled to them, and in fact, I share quite a few of them. What intrigued me is your fascination with people of faith, and how little you seem to understand your own motivations for your own obsessions. You accuse other of projecting, and yet I have never seen a clearer case of it than through you. You don’t seem concerned if people commit acts of violence or oppression in the name of religion…you seem mired in why they chose to go to mass on Sunday, or how they think they communicate with a higher being. Why do you find it so offensive? Because you’re oh so concerned about this world? I already pointed out how shoddy that defense was.

    It seems like the entire point of this blog is to point out how much more clever you are than the people you mock, and you should really examine why you need that in your life. The amount of time you’ve dedicated to this endeavor is sad, really. To spend all your time putting thought and effort into showing why one group of people is stupid makes me think you have nothing of your own that is more worthwhile than tearing down someone else. I think about your post where you talk about the emptiness that came when you cried out to god and heard nothing. I wonder if you vitriol has to do with being bitter and jealous of those with faith, and the fact that it gives them solace while you have to deal with your issues in other ways.

    I’ll stop now, because as you’ve said, your mind is made is up, and any other words would just be a waste. I’m sure the ones I’ve already said have fallen on deaf ears. But maybe if you look a little harder at yourself, you can take some time away from screaming LOOK HOW MUCH SMARTER I AM THAN SOME RANDOM CHRISTIAN WHO I CHOSE TO FEATURE BECAUSE I THINK I CAN WIN A ONE SIDED ARGUMENT AGAINST THEM and focus your skills and creativity on building and something positive. Maybe something that might actually help this world you pretend to be concerned about.

  13. You said: “you have deemed any opinion other than your own unworthy of examination.”

    When have I said this? I’m fine with debate. I have my conclusions, I’m willing to hear other points of view, but in the years that I have been dealing with this issue I have yet to hear any sufficient to convince me of anything but my conclusion. I have not settled dogmatically on a conclusion, I just have a conclusion.

    “What intrigued me is your fascination with people of faith, and how little you seem to understand your own motivations for your own obsessions. You accuse other of projecting, and yet I have never seen a clearer case of it than through you. You don’t seem concerned if people commit acts of violence or oppression in the name of religion…you seem mired in why they chose to go to mass on Sunday”

    What? What are my motivations? I’ll tell you what I think they are; to address an issue publicly in order to have a conversation that doe snot generally happen. I am certainly concerned about acts of violence. I don’t think I need to address this because nearly everyone would agree with that and so I step past that and address the concerns besides and behind those.

    Again, I’m not saying that Christians are stupid. I’m saying taht they believe things I consider indefensible and it often causes actions that are harmful, including violence but also the anti-scientific bias that many people have.

    You seem so concerned with how much time I am spending on this. Why do you care? And how much time do you think I spend doing this?

    My moment of calling out to the universe in a time of weakness was a point in which I started to understand faith a little. I talked about that because I think its a valid point to show that I’m not merely standing behind some pseudo-rationality from which I have not tried to address faith on its own. I have made honest efforts to see the otehr side and what I saw was people who are deluded. If that is true, then why not say so? What will the truth hurt? And if they are deluded, then why should they care if I think so? If their beliefs are true, they will stand up to my scrutiny, so why shouldn’t I challenge them?

    I’m not jealous of those with faith, I feel pity for them. I think the truth matters, and it seems to them false hope is preferable. I disagree.

    I’ve never said my mind is made up. I have a point of view, and I express it. It is subject to change, but I am not hearing reason to change it. Before we, as a would, can all start to build up new positive things, we have to be willing to tear down the old and destructive. I will help with the building when I think we have gotten past the old.

  14. “You want me to present both sides, but this seems to me to be based upon the notion that presenting both sides, the “fair and balanced” approach, is somehow better. In the case where there really is no argument for faith or Christianity, why should I pretend there is?”

    I’m not sure how you can interpret that as “being open to debate.” You state clearly that looking at other arguments would just be you pretending to consider them. That kind of open-mindedness is really what makes for reasoned discussions. And it certainly belies your statement “I’ve never said my mind is made up.” First you say there is NO argument for faith or Christianity, then you say your mind is open. And, in fact, you have called Christians stupid and worse.

    I honestly don’t think you know what you believe. As you say, these people you talk about usually DON’T care what you think about them. I just find it so sad that you DO care so much about what they think . Devoting this much time to a group of people who you called “deluded” speaks of motivations beyond “addressing an issue.” When I meet someone I fundamentally disagree with, I usually ignore them. You spend months screaming to the internet about how smart and clever you are, and how dumb they are. That’s just honestly not normal behavior.

  15. By ignoring people that you disagree with you are not really doing anything, are you? So, you prefer to do nothing…except taht you disagree with me and yet you are not agreeing with me.

    I can play that game too. I’ve said that there is no good argument for Christianity. Am I wrong? If so, then someone should show me that argument that I have not heard. You cannot be so thick as to not understand that when I say that there is no good argument for this or that, I’m not saying that I’ve closed my mind to any possible argument, only that I’m convinced, as of yet, that there is none.

    This meta-argument is sort of interesting, but I feel like there is more going on behind this. You remind of someone I know named Jon Clark, a guy who lives in New Jersey and argues the same point that you do. I’m not saying you are him, but he’s used various names over the years to argue with me.

    I’m not screaming how smart and clever I am. I’m making points about things I’ve noticed in my life while thinking and talking about religion and faith. I think that challenging these cultural ideas are worthwhile. If you don’t find it worthwhile then why are you arguing with me? Why do you care?

  16. I’m not Jon Clark, and yes, you have pointed out several times that you are more intelligent than the people you speak about.

    And no. People with open minds do NOT say that there are NO arguments for what they disagree with. That is the definition of a closed mind. Just because you’ve backtracked now doesn’t change what you said there: there are no arguments for it, and engaging the other side would just be you pretending to consider that side. If that’s open minded, I’m would hate to see what your definition of close minded is. I’m not even sure it’s possible to get stronger language than that.

    I was arguing because I found this post almost ludicrously ironic. Again, the part about you knowing that the Christian’s passion is motivated by fear and yours is motivated by confidence…it just begged for a response by any objective reader. And the fact that you projected your outlook on them, then accused them of doing it, and titled it “Hypocrisy”? It was way too easy.

    I don’t care, not really. I guess I assumed that maybe you’d be open to some of what I pointed out, but since your idea of open-mindedness seems insanely out of line with mine, I should have stopped when I said I was. Good luck with your life, and I hope at some point you realize that focusing on the imagined flaws of others won’t make yours go away. It’s been fun!

  17. And I disagree with your analysis of the hypocrisy. Am I wrong that there is a sort of fear that underlies the belief in something only faithfully. I have confidence in my view because I have tried to understand from both sides. I see the side of faith to be ridiculous. Most Christians I have ever met have no idea what the argument on the other side is. I’m not projecting, I’m showing where some others often do. How is this hypocrisy if I happen to be right?

    You have not shown me how I am incorrect that their view is based on fear, and mine is not. You have simply asserted it. I understand that if I were in fact projecting, it would be hypocritical. But if, on the other hand, I’m not projecting, then it’s not hypocritical, but a salient point.

    I appreciate the catch of a potential hypocrisy. I just don’t agree that it is.

  18. Um, you could not possibly know the motivation of all of the Christians you have come across, unless you are skilled in mind reading. If you do not know for sure their motivations, you are making them up according to whatever impression you have of them and your impression of the their religion.

    So unless you’re a swami in your free time, I gotta say you’re a hypocrite.

  19. No, I cannot read their minds, but I can read people quite well in person. In the conversations I’ve had, in almost every case (and in my discussions with others, including Christians who have see the exact same thing) I see people who are afraid.

    And even if not all of them are actually afraid (perhaps they are just ignorant or never really thought about it), that would not make me a hypocrite unless I am in fact full of fear myself. Now, I do have some fears, but they are not related to me understanding of religion and faith. So your point is not valid.

  20. I see now why you’re not fond of debate. Protip: Just saying something doesn’t make it true. You saying that “you see fear” does not make it so. The fact that you somehow see the EXACT same emotion on everyone’s face who disagrees with you miiiiiight mean that it has less to do them and more to do with you. You just saying that you have no fear does not make it so.

    Me, however, saying that you can not read people’s minds, so you can not know what they’re thinking? Fact. Me saying that it is extremely unlikely that every person you speak to chose religion based on fear? A lot more likely than your thesis. The fact that, if all of these people are not ALL feeling something, and yet you are seeing it in them?


  21. Stop putting words in my mouth to make your point. I didn’t say that everyone I disagree with is full of fear. I have no use of such hyperbole. I am saying that in many Christians (but not only them) that I have talked to, there comes a point in the conversation that it is obvious that the idea that their beliefs aren’t true causes them fear. Some actually admit this.

    I cannot possible address every person I meet with one point, because people are different. Again, the question is whether there is not a lot of fear of the loss of hope in people of faith? Do you disagree with this?

    I’m not making a universal statement, I’m talking about a specific thing that happens to some people. Your point is only valid if I were making the generalization, which I’m not.

  22. “In the conversations I’ve had, in almost every case.” So, I’m sorry. You don’t see fear in every single face, just in almost every single face. Not some, not many, but in ALMOST EVERY CASE. Seem pretty much like you are generalizing and making universal statements. It’s kind of like when people talk about the fact that there a FEW black people who won’t rip you off. Noting that there a couple of exceptions to a rule does not make your generalizations (or projections) more valid.

    Yeah. Still thinking it’s you, buddy.

  23. yea, ok… I was raised catholic. And I can tell you this much with certainty. EVERY catholic with a catholic education starts with basing their faith on fear. Religion would not be what it is today if it didn’t use fear to recruit. People believe these things because they are afraid they might be true.

    The latest idea of Hell (which is really a recent fabrication) that is going around now is a really scary place. The two biggest and easiest examples I can use here to make my point are Christianity and Islam. Christianity says believe in Jesus and you will be saved from hell. The Quran specifically says that if you believe Jesus is divine then you will go to hell. How can such beliefs, such faith, be anything but ridiculous? Both faiths are identical, but you will never be able to tell that to a believer.

    There are billions of people all over the world that absolutely believe one or the other. Then there are the different sects of each that are convinced of each others damnation. Protestants are certain Catholics are going to hell, and vice verse. Those that don’t are the exception, not the rule. Every sect believes that their belief is the one true belief, and it will keep a child awake at night crying in terror for not having faith strong enough to be certain that he was born into the right religion.

    And if you discuss faith with anyone long enough, pick apart their beliefs, you will eventually get to a point where they can only respond with, “But what if it’s true?” People will believe in a lie because they either want it to be true, or because they are afraid it might be true. THOSE are the arguments for faith. Are they worth listening to..? And like Shaun said, is there another reason that actually IS worth listening to? If so, by all means lets hear it.

    The man I mentioned in my earlier response was angry when we talked about how I was raised catholic but am now an atheist, because he is catholic. He was not angry at me, he was angry at himself for not having the courage to take the same position. As I said, he is a smart man. The only thing that holds him to his dogma is fear.

    And, to not understanding the other side… As a general rule, atheists know a hell of a lot more about religion then theists do. (or… they wouldn’t be theists?) People don’t just choose atheism, and they are rarely born into it… they become atheists for a reason.

  24. I haven’t checked in here for a while since I thought it was
    getting boring, but the last few posts are good quality so I guess I will add you back to my daily bloglist.
    You deserve it friend 🙂

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